IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My owner's review of the new Saab 9-5

Background info: I don't want my Saab to resemble a BMW

First I want to share with you some of my thoughts about my basis when driving a new Saab. I regard myself as a Saab enthusiast. I love the design, the ergonomics, the uniqueness, the quirks, the comfort, the sportiness and the driving characteristics of the Saab cars. Time and time again I read reviews that compare Saabs to BMWs or Audis. And often the Saab is said to not fully measure up to the German competitors. My answer to that is this: If I want BMW or Audi comfort, sportiness, driving characteristics etc, I will buy a BMW or an Audi! But I don't, because I want my Saab to feel like a Saab in every sense of the word. So now, when I write this very biased review of my new Saab 9-5 Vector 2.0 TiD, my main comparison is the Saabs I have driven over the years. And for me the only question of importance is this: Does this new 9-5 feel like a natural and modern evolution of the previous Saabs?

Exterior design: Elegantly born from tradition

When I first saw the new 9-5 I was a bit disappointed that they hadn't dared to make it even more unique and different. But as time has gone by I have started to realize two things: First, the simple and clean design is a Scandinavian tradition. We don't like to make it more complex that it needs to be. The lines of the car are very clean and natural. The design looks very harmonious. The second thing I realized was that this is a luxury sedan. Or like my father said: "It looks like an executive car." And a car like that has to have a sense of elegance and confidence. It shouldn't be too sporty or too conspicuous. Saab can save that for the Viggen version of the next 9-3. For the 9-5 it's all about balancing on the fine line between elegance and extravagance. In my opinion, the designers have done a fine job.

As mentioned several times by Saab and car magazines, the new 9-5 does look like a real Saab with the hockey stick roof line, the wedge-like stance, the sloping C-pillars, the shape of the headlights, the wraparound windshield and the three piece Saab grille. In my opinion this is something that distinguishes premium brands like Saab, BMW, Audi and Mercedes from the masses: A distinct and recognizable design.

Interior design and ergonomics: The Saab pilot's workplace

The interior has been one of the highlights so far. After reading some negative reviews and after I was made aware that the great looking dash panel from the show cars didn't make it into production, I was worried. I feared that the interior would be gloomy and cheap-looking. But I had no reason to worry. My car has the Dark Cocoa and Parchment interior and it looks great. The dashboard, the steering wheel, the shifter boot and the windows frame are Cocoa brown and the seats and carpet are Parchment. In between there are some details in a nice metallic look. The cockpit looks very cosy and inviting. A nice place to do some driving.


My car has the comfort seats in part leather and part textile. You can adjust height and seat angle, legroom, backrest angle and lumbar support. The seats are comparable, and maybe even slightly better, than the part leather – part textile seats of the 9-3. In my opinion the seats are very good. But I am far from an expert on car seats. But for me they feel good.

Steering wheel, switches and buttons

I know that some have criticized Saab for using a generic GM steering wheel. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a nice wheel to hold. Compared to the steering wheel of the 9-3 (both Aero and standard sports wheel), the steering wheel in the 9-5 feels smaller and gives me a sense of better control. The steering wheel is of course adjustable for both reach and rake. The buttons are okay, but maybe a mild setback compared to the ones on the 9-3 steering wheel. On my old 9-3 (MY2003) I was a bit annoyed that from my driving position the night panel button was invisible behind the steering wheel. And unfortunately this is also the case on the new 9-5.

The rest of the switches and buttons seem like good quality plastic. In the good Saab tradition there are enough buttons for the wannabe pilot and it takes a bit of time to learn their placing and function.

And it is very nice of Saab to include a turbo boost gauge! That's like the ultimate Saab dial and I missed it on both my previous low pressure turbo Saabs! Thank you Saab :)


The pilot head-up display has been an ambiguous experience for me. On some drives I love it and on some it annoys me. It is very pleasing to just refocus your sight on the windshield and there's the speed info, temperature info etc. But that's also the problem. When you focus your sight and look far ahead you always have a blurred and sometimes distracting and tiring HUD on the windshield. And it can be especially distracting when driving in the dark because then the HUD is very bright compared to the surroundings. Thankfully the HUD can be turned off.

The lane departure warning system and the traffic sign recognition system are also fine systems. But for me they are unnecessary gadgets. If you have an active driving style, then the lane depart warning system will beep non stop. I tend to turn it off most of the time…

Sound system and navigation

I have never been much of a car stereo freak, but I love music and take special interest in actually hearing the lyrics. The seven speaker stereo system in my old 9-3 seemed adequate for my needs. But that was before I got my new car with the harmon/kardon stereo. For the first time in my live I now understand why it's desirable to also have great sound in the car. One big bonus is that it is DTS capable. Now I'm listening to DTS CDs (yes, CDs and not DVDs) with multi track surround sound. Connecting an USB-unit is plug-and-play. And copying tracks from the USB-unit or a CD over to the hard drive is hassle free. And when you put a CD (without CD-text) into the CD-player, the system has a pre-installed database of CD track lists. I am impressed! (Maybe I'm easily impressed?).

I am also impressed by the navigation. Especially how it is integrated into the HUD and into the display in the instrument cluster. The touch screen is big and easily viewable both at night and in bright sunshine.

Noise: Silence is the new loud?

My only complaint about noise is when the diesel engine is cold and when driving at low speeds. Then the engine is a bit noisy. When the speed picks up the engine seems to be more happy and quiet. The noise from the tires and the wind is only just noticeable, and overall the new 9-5 is much more quite than the previous 9-5 and the 9-3.

Engine and performance: Impressive oil burner

Previously I have sworn to Saab's two litre petrol turbo engines. I loved the raw power of the genuine Saab Trionic 5 engine as well as the refined power of the GM sourced Trionic 8 engine. Both went from good to thrilling with a little help from Hirsch. So I was very curious about how a diesel engine would measure up. And I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. The diesel engine feels much more responsive than I had imagined. It feels more than powerful enough for the 1700 kg car. It overtakes both cars and long semi-trailers with ease. I haven't felt short of power yet. When Hirsch release an engine update for the 2.0 TiD, I will consider buying it, but at the moment I am happy with the performance the way it is.

Chassis and steering: High speeds and winding roads, thank you

First of all, let me tell you about the roads I have driven on. I have driven the car to work every day for two weeks now. The road is covered with tarmac and there are fairly long straight stretches. Parts of the road have a good surface and parts are quite worn by studded winter tires that have dug their way into the tarmac and created two sunken tracks. On these roads the car behaves like a charm. The worn surface of the roads doesn't seem to affect the car much and only small adjustments are needed to keep the car on track. What impresses me the most is the stability and ease displayed by the car when traveling at high speeds. There is no doubt that this is a large executive cruiser.

I have also driven the car on twisty asphalt roads to my cabin in the woods, and it was a very rewarding experience to drive on the winding roads. The car steers great and feels very safe and stable when it gets thrown from one turn to another. Too bad I jammed a big bird into my grille on one of my inspired drives.

Conclusion: Go for a test drive!

If you made it all the way down to the last paragraph then you should know by now that I am very pleased with my new Saab 9-5. And if you haven’t taken one for a test drive yet, then what are you waiting for?

So does this new Saab 9-5 feel like a natural and modern evolution of the previous Saabs? Yes, even with a diesel engine! And I also should mention that I feel even safer in the new 9-5 than I did in the Saab 9-3

The highlights
  • The interior! This was a big positive surprise.
  • The diesel engine
  • The stability at high speed
  • The fun on winding roads

Do you want to know how the car performs under winter conditions? Then read my winter review.